July 20, 2015 by 4 Comments

Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is one of the three most important factors that lenders look at when deciding whether or not to approve you for a mortgage (the other two? Your FICO score and the loan-to-value ratio, which varies with the price of the house you plan to buy).

DTI is considered especially important in determining your ability to repay the mortgage.

It is computed with your total monthly debt payments and gross monthly income (before taxes are taken out). It is expressed one of two ways, either including your estimated monthly mortgage payments (”back end”) or your debt obligations before you take out the mortgage (“front end”).

In 2014, an important new rule promulgated by the Treasury Department had a major impact on DTIs. Known as the QM Rule and designed to toughen ability-to-repay requirements, it had the effect of limiting DTIs to 43 percent. That means borrowers with DTI’s above 43 won’t get loans.

In practice, lenders are actually even more conservative; the median back end DTI is about 37 percent for approved mortgages. That means most monthly debt payments including mortgage payments total no more than 37 percent of total monthly gross income.

DTI can be a killer for young adults making sizable student loan payments or for consumers who have run up debt. However, even those with long term debt payments like student loans, auto loans, or back taxes can get a mortgage if they improve their DTI.

Here are five steps anyone can take to lower their DTI.

1. Pay off your smallest debts first.

Even a hundred dollars on a credit card requires a minimum monthly payment, which will increase your DTI. Pay these off in full. Dollar for dollar, you will get more debt reduction with this tactic than any other.

2. Refinance high APR credit card debts with a low APR card.

APR means annualized percentage rate—the actual interest you pay over a year. It’s a way to look at the interest you are paying without focusing on special introductory rates, which can be misleading. Many lenders offer cards with very attractive APRs to customers who have good credit ratings.

If you have cards that are past their introductory period, though, you may be paying a higher APR than you need to. Contact one of the major credit card lenders to see what they will offer in the way of a lower APR card. When you find one, consolidate your high APR debts under your new low APR card. You will reduce your monthly debt load and pay at a lower rate of interest. In a year, review where you stand. If the marketing rate that made your new card attractive has expired, consider finding a new one and consolidating again.

3. If you thought you outfoxed the dealer and got a great deal on a new or used car, check again.

You might be paying interest at a rate much higher than you need to. The median APR for car loans today is 4.38% for a 60-month loan (five years) on a new car and 5.2% on a 36-month loan a (three years) for a used car[1]. Refinance your car with the most competitive rate you can find from an online lender.

When you refinance, you can increase the length of time of the loan if you have had your car for a reasonable length of time. Lowering the interest and stretching out the principal over a longer period of time could significantly reduce your monthly payments.

4. Refinance long term debt to lower your monthly debt payments by stretching out the term of your loan and take advantage of lower rates.

If you graduated more than three years ago, chances are good you can find a better interest rate today, depending on your credit rating. Remember, if the interest rate is the same, when you refinance a loan to lengthen its term, you will be paying more in interest over the long term than you would have if you had not refinanced.

5. Borrow from your 401K retirement plan at no interest to pay off smaller debts or pay down larger ones.

As you make future monthly contributions to your plan, a portion will go towards paying off the amount you withdrew. You will also have to pay taxes on your withdrawal. Repay the withdrawal as soon as you can to keep your retirement savings on track.

The bottom line?

Take a hard look at your debt situation before you start applying for a loan. Compute your DTI. Count only income you can document with pay stubs or tax returns.  If you find yourself close to the 37 percent threshold, take steps now to reduce your monthly debt payments.

[1] http://www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/rate-roundup.aspx

scook@reeconadvisors.com'

Steve Cook is managing editor of Real Estate Economy Watch, which was recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites of 2011 by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, he was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors. In 2006 and 2007, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate.


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4 Comments

  • eleeshiasimmons@gmail.com' leshia says:

    should i refinance my vehicle before i purchase a home? Or is there a time frame in which this should be done?

  • Carter Wessman says:

    Hi Leshia,

    It’s difficult to offer advice without having more information. If you would like, we could have a loan specialist contact you to discuss further.

    Carter

  • yanohjalloh@gmail.com' Kay says:

    I have been confused about how back end DTI is calculated. For example…I am trying to qualify for a 400,000 mortgage, when calculated…my DTI was very high at 56 percent. Is back end DTI calculated with what my future mortgage payments will be? Does that mean that if I try to qualify for a lower mortgage amoutn, say 350,000 my DTI will reduce? Please advise I am so confused!

  • Carter Wessman says:

    Hi Kay,

    Front-end DTI is found by dividing your projected monthly mortgage payment by your monthly gross income. Back-end DTI is found by combining your projected monthly mortgage payment plus any car loans, personal loans, and credit card debt payments, and dividing it by your monthly gross income. A lower mortgage will indeed reduce both front and back-end DTI.

    Carter

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